Summer PSA: My scariest parenting moment to date

Generally one of the best ways for me to process a horrible event is to share it with friends and write about it. This particular one was witnessed by a friend, and I was comforted to have her immediate empathetic, non-judgmental response as my first. When I told my husband he also responded lovingly and graciously, understanding how this could happen. That’s the only type of response I can handle right now. Here, I’m requesting virtual hugs while simultaneously providing a PSA.

While visiting a friend’s pool today, a common summer event for us, I did as I usually do: walked into the courtyard, placed our gear and food on a table, and turned to help get the boys ready for the pool. But this time I turned around and my youngest was bobbing up and down, silently drowning. (I can’t yet write this without crying.)

I jumped into the pool, cover-up dress still on, and placed him on the side. I held him, kissing him and holding him for a long time while my hands shook. He was breathing. Thank God. He didn’t cough either, so I suppose he did a decent job keeping his mouth closed each time he went under.

I don’t know how long he was in. Probably just a few seconds, certainly no more than a minute. He had to walk down a couple stairs to get to the deeper part and he was already a few feet away from the stairs when I got to him. Given the outcome, it doesn’t matter. I can replay it all I want but I’ll never know exactly how it happened. I just know that he got in over his head.

For the past few summers he’s worn a puddle jumper to swim “independently.” He’s never tried to get in without me holding him or wearing that. I assumed, after several years of safe behavior, that he understood he could not float without assistance. Obviously, there was some cognitive shift in which he no longer understood that he wasn’t floating by himself. Or he simply didn’t understand the consequences. Even immediately after the incident he tried several times to get in the pool without me or the puddle jumper after we’d removed it for bathroom breaks and lunch. Having learned my lesson, I was vigilant at that point and didn’t allow him out of my line of sight, but I was surprised that he tried entering again so quickly.

I simply want to add to the chorus of water safety PSAs, specifically to remind parents of young children that our little ones may demonstrate safety over months of time, even years, and then immediately disregard the rules. (I certainly could’ve used a gentler reminder.) After it happened I recalled that my oldest tried to cross the street without me when he was four, also after years of always waiting for an adult’s hand. There just might be something about this age, as they shift from babies and toddlers to more independent little kids, that they overestimate their own skills. Don’t assume a history of consistently safe behavior will continue.

We will now establish a routine that prevents accidents. I will be putting his puddle jumper on prior to entering the pool courtyard. Or I will hold his hand until it’s on. Or I will not take my eyes off of him. But even writing that idea feels dangerous. Another kid falling or crying can be a big enough distraction to take my eyes off of him, just long enough for a him to get in the pool. So, I think I’ll stick with putting it on the minute we have access to the water.

Right after it happened I would’ve spent a thousand dollars for amazing swim lessons to get him 100% water safe. I’ve talked myself down a bit, but I feel increasingly horrible about it. I will never forget the look on his face. I couldn’t be more thankful that this ending wasn’t different.



15 thoughts on “Summer PSA: My scariest parenting moment to date

  1. Karin Wagner

    Oh, Kathleen. A virtual hug to you. Just wish I could give you a real one. I will when I see you again.

    1. kathleenbeanblog Post author

      I appreciate that heads-up, Erica. My friend (whose pool it was at) also warned me. I had never heard of that term before, though I am very familiar with aspiration pneumonia. Thankfully, he has been himself today.

  2. Julie

    Hugs Kathleen- it’s incredible how fast it can happen, so so glad that Jesus was watching over you guys today. Peace be with you now and know that you are nothing but an incredible mom- this same story can happen to any one of us. Thanks for sharing….

    1. kathleenbeanblog Post author

      They have my vote, too. Last time we tried lessons with him he ran away from the side of the pool, fell hard and hurt his knees really bad. Needless to say, they are scary to him. It’s going to be tricky.

  3. Chris

    This happened to me when my now 26 year old daughter was just two. We were in my mom’s pool, I was in the water with her baby sister chatting with my sister. My toddler was supposed to be over in the shade playing where my mom sat in a chair reading a magazine. As I whirled the baby around in the water my eye caught a flash of a red swimsuit in the deep end under water. I tossed the baby to my sister, went under and got to her quickly, pulling her up and pounding on her back until she threw up the water that she had just started to swallow. The look on her face when our eyes met under water will forever haunt me and I suffered terribly for weeks, months…I can’t really say. So I know just how you feel Kathleen, I can still feel the horror, relief, shame – all of it 25 plus years later. The good news is that it was a huge wake up call, my kids learned to swim like fish and water safety was always a top priority at our house no matter how old they were. Sending you a virtual hug:))

    1. kathleenbeanblog Post author

      Hi Chris, That sounds just horrible. I am so thankful most of his head was above water. (As he bobbed down, his eyes stayed above.) I can’t imagine how awful that must’ve been for you. I do feel a bit haunted by my memory of his face. He had a nightmare last night, too. We will all be healing for awhile. (Thanks for the hug, too!)

  4. Kate

    Honey, you were so brave on Friday, and I am SOOOOOOOOO thankful that it ended up as a scary lesson and nothing more. Big hugs to you, and see you there again soon, Puddle Jumpers ON!!!!!! We’ll don them at the door before we unlock. It’s the magic password into the pool from now on!

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